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Overcoming challenges prepares senior to be a math professor

Feb 24, 2022
A woman stands at the entrance to the math commons
A woman stands at the entrance to the math commons

KOKOMO, Ind. – A math major, a biochemistry major, and a physics minor add up to one challenging college career for Tifany Burnett.

Factor in that she’s accomplished all of this with dyslexia, and it’s truly an inspiring story.

“It just makes me work harder to get what I want out of what I’m doing,” said Burnett, who graduates in May and has already been admitted to two graduate programs.

Her goal is to earn a Ph.D. in mathematics, to be a math professor.

“The challenges I’ve overcome will make me more empathetic with my students,” she said, adding that she’s worked as a tutor in the Math Commons while earning her degree, and enjoys explaining math.

“I try to help students relax and feel like it’s not that scary. You just have to think differently about it,” she said. “You have to try hard for it, you have to work to understand it, which is why it intimidates some people.”

She’s excited to graduate in May, noting that with two majors and a minor, all in difficult fields, and her dyslexia, it took her six years to complete her studies. Working with the campus accessibility center, she arranged an accommodation to have more time to take her tests.

“It takes me a little longer to understand what I’m reading, so I’m a slow reader,” she said. “I’m pretty sure every class I’ve ever taken, I’ve read every chapter that’s been assigned several times. It was a lot of sleepless nights for sure.”

Patrick Motl, professor of physics, described Burnett’s course load as one of the most challenging on campus.

“Tifany represents one of the best examples of student success I could point to in my time at IU Kokomo,” he said. “She has persevered and excelled in her academic work, regardless of what her knowledge of the subject was at the start of the class. She probably has the most challenging course load of anyone on campus over her time here.”

She’s also valued as one of the best peer tutors on campus, Motl added.

Burnett, who lives in Logansport, will decide in the near future where to attend graduate school. She’s been accepted into a Master of Science in Mathematics program at Purdue Fort Wayne, and a Ph.D. program in mathematics at Purdue at West Lafayette, and is interviewing for a Ph.D. program at IUPUI.

Burnett credits outstanding faculty for her success.

“This did not come naturally,” she said. “I definitely have struggled, but I’m persistent. That’s what helps me through, along with great teachers.”

It was in a calculus class taught by Amelia Tebbe, assistant professor of mathematics, that she was inspired to become a math major. She described Christopher Caruvana, assistant professor of mathematics, as “wicked smart,” but also someone who validates questions.

She’s enjoyed working with Diane Hampshire, mathematics program coordinator, in her tutoring role, and appreciates Hampshire’s work to make the Math Commons a welcoming place.

She added her physics minor at Motl’s encouragement, and said he was always available to help her when needed.

Burnett was a research assistant with Hisako Masuda, associate professor of biochemistry, and attended a biochemistry conference in Chicago and the Indiana Academy of Science meeting with her.

“The people have been the best part of my experience at IU Kokomo,” she said. “I’ve made wonderful relationships with the faculty and with my friends. I’m excited to move forward with my career.”

Education is KEY at Indiana University Kokomo.

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